Your mindset may be determining your success on guitar

What is mindset? Here is the Google dictionary definition. ‘mentality: a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations’.

Mindset is a hot topic among today’s psychologists, teachers and coaches because it plays such an important role in achieving a successful outcome in life. My aim in this blog is to apply the mindset idea to learning guitar to give you an idea of how our mindsets affect our long term performance.

Fixed v Growth Mindset

Carol S Dweck (Social Psychology Professor at Stanford University) specialises in mindsets. Dweck explains that their are two types of mindsets. Fixed and growth. Someone with a fixed mindset believes our intelligence and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed. A fixed mindset belief might be ‘Great musicians are born’.  A person with a growth mindset believes we have unlimited potential and can develop our intelligence and abilities. A growth mindset belief might be ‘Great musicians are the result of years of practice’. Dweck makes a case for the growth mindset explaining that people with growth mindsets are more likely to succeed because they see failure as merely a stepping stone to success. Fixed mindset people see failure as proof that they lack intelligence or ability. Dweck also points out that people with growth mindsets make more accurate assessments of their own strengths and weaknesses and are therefore able to make improvements and allowances. The fixed mindset tends to lead people to blame outside forces for the way they are.

Be Mindful of Your Mindset

As a guitar teacher I must say over the years I have been able to witness the opposing mindsets in action. I wouldn’t go as far as to say guitar students have one mindset or the other but in fact have  degrees of both. The strategy I would suggest is to be mindful of your mindset and work on strengthening your growth mindset. The best time to do this is when you face a set back or feel you are failing. At this time you should question your response to the situation.

Adult Student Mindsets

Mindsets play a pivotal role with the adult students especially when the signs of frustration start to appear. If for example a student was working on a specific skill or exercise and felt there was little to no improvement the fixed mindset might respond by saying “I just don’t have any musical talent” whereas the growth mindset might say “Wow this is tough and I obviously have lots of work to do”.

Making Comparisons

Another common area is when we compare ourselves to others. We often see this occur when two friends or family members start together. As time goes by one will often progress faster in certain skills. This can lead to the students making comparisons. The student who progresses at a slower rate will view it from either the fixed or growth mindset. Fixed might be “I was obviously not meant to be a guitarist” opposed to growth “While I am comfortable with my current level of progress I might just chat to my teacher to see if she/he believes my progress is on track”. A person with a growth mindset knows there can be a million and one reasons why someone will progress at a faster rate but more importantly knows that if in doubt rather than jumping to conclusions it is better to seek advice from their teacher in regards to their rate of progress. After all who would have more knowledge on guitar student progress?

Developing a Child’s Mindset

Our mindsets are often molded in our childhood.  If you are a parent or teacher understanding what you do and say will give you a chance to help your child/student develop a growth mindset. For example if you praise a child with a comment like “Fantastic. You are a natural” you are setting them up for a fixed mindset. The child will come to believe that their intelligence and abilities are natural and therefore out of their control. Instead if you say “Fantastic. Your commitment to practice is now paying off” they will develop a growth mindset and come to believe that through effort and persistence they can achieve success.

As you can see there is an obvious difference between the two mindsets and applying the growth mindset to learning guitar will give you your best chance at success.

David Hart – Program Director


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